The Honduran government said on Tuesday it had completed the relocation of some 2,000 highly dangerous inmates to a maximum security prison to bring order to its prison system.
Under heavy military guard, 773 members of the powerful Mara Salvatrucha (MS-13) and Barrio 18 gangs were transferred on Monday from the crowded Marco Aurelio Soto prison to a high security facility east of Tegucigalpa known as "El Pozo II."
"Today we can state that the 2,000 most dangerous inmates in the country are completely isolated," Honduran President Juan Orlando Hernandez told a news conference.
More than 3,000 police and military personnel, 245 land vehicles and 5 aircraft participated in the operation on Monday, according to Hernandez.
Honduras launched “Operation Arpía” in March in an attempt to reorganize its prisons to break the power of gangs. Authorities say gang members can orchestrate murders, extortion, and drug trafficking from behind bars.
El Pozo, the newly built maximum-security jail, will hold inmates in isolated cells, away from their fellow gang members, and restricts all communications devices so they cannot issue orders to associates on the streets.
The final transfer of prisoners came after some 22 gang members escaped from Marco Aurelio Soto last week. Local media reports said the gang members broke out after paying off guards.
"The prisoners fled because arrangements are being made to transfer them to new, high-security jails and they don't want to go to those places," the head of the National Penitentiary Institute, Rosa Gudiel, told a press conference. Gudiel said this was the largest escape in more than a decade.
The Marco Aurelio Soto prison is considered the most overpopulated in Honduras, where 17,000 inmates are held in a facility designed to hold only 8,000. In 2014, the administration of President Hernandez ordered the military to supervise the country's biggest prisons.
Honduras, one of the most violent countries in the Americas, had saw a 30 percent decline in homicides, according to the most recent government data.
President Hernández attributed the reduction in crime to reforms passed by Honduras's National Congress last February, the prisoner transfer program, and the Government's law enforcement efforts.
“Arpía was a successful and noteworthy operation, showing not only our political will but also the Honduran State’s new capabilities,” the president claimed.